Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

The West Meets the East: A Study of Jason Elliot's Mirrors of the Unseen

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

The West Meets the East: A Study of Jason Elliot's Mirrors of the Unseen

Article excerpt


Travel writing, as a literary genre has a special place in the history of English literature. Among the many travelogues written about Persia, Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran (2006) by Jason Elliot is an outstanding one. In documenting the history, culture and civilization of the people it follows a different approach. The present research is going to depict the differences and affinities in Elliot's writings and objectives to other travel writers' objectives in travelling to Persia and presenting this country. In Mirrors of the Unseen, architecture plays an important role through which the possibility of understanding the 'Other' and the 'Self' are matched with each another. The method Elliot follows to understand the nations is through their narrations embodied in their architecture, which narrate the nation's past and present history, desires and motives. Reaching this job, one of Elliot's objectives is to find the origin and character of Islamic architecture. In doing so, in addition to studying architecture, he makes a bridge between East and West by comparing and contrasting different signs and symbols hence approving or contrasting his pre-knowledge. In dealing with architecture signs and objects Elliot appears as a Barthesian critic avante la letter, whose focus is on the underlying meanings behind each sign and who decodes them based on his insight. Relating to this objective, I am concerned with showing Elliot's aesthetic reflection and analysis of Persian architecture. Through these personal discoveries and explorations Elliot follows the tradition of modern travel wiring started with Byron and creates a turning point in the history of travel writing of the East.

Key words: Travel Writing; Architecture; Persia; Self and Other


Every text requires some sort of interpretation as a part of the effort to appraise, improve, and enlarge the text's achievement, typically as a means to find a unifying structured framework through which we can make sense of an author's work. To understand and interpret a text is to "get beneath the accumulated crust of misinterpretation [...] and take a stand in the center of what is said and unsaid" (Palmer, 1969, p.147). Metaphorically speaking, a text is a mirror, and is often a very good place to discover the conventions and codifications of a certain period; i.e., as a social product, the text might be "marked in the light (or shadow) of power" (Barthes, 1989, p. 107-8). From another vantage point of discussion, whoever holds this mirror before himself will see his own image, whereas the mirror has no image of its own; simultaneously, it reflects the image of every reader; in short, the image is at once "present and empty" but "unreal and full", and it masks the absence with an illusion of presence (Barthes, 200, p. 110).

In much the same way, culture is a "symbolic [sign] system," an "acted document" and "consists of socially established structures of meaning" (Geertz, 2000: 10-17). It is like a text, a mirror, and a galaxy of signs, objects, and codes. The thing that a reader/traveller (here Jason Elliot1) does is to decode those codes. It is like a neverending field full of divergent flowers, each is different from the others, while organized in a (dis)orderly manner. A traveller, through his journey and encountering this galaxy, finds himself at the centre, where his eyes can see a certain spectrum of the signs. In understanding the signs and recording them in his travel book, he acts as a translator and translates the unfamiliar travellees to his readers. As he moves from one place to another, from one sign to the next one, a new batch of meaning shows itself to him, whereas the social and cultural galaxy rarely shows itself completely to him; therefore, some parts of the travellees remains un-translated for the travellers, readers as well as critics. The traveller focuses his gaze on those signs and objects which he considers as master signs, whereas the other signs elude his gaze. …

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